The sidewalks of State Street are often crowded with pedestrians, strollers and dogs — especially in summer, which is primetime for outdoor skateboarding. It doesn’t take a Daniel Burnham-caliber city planner to see how a sudden onset of Tony Hawk wannabes would butt heads with this crowd.
However, it seems overly cautious to restrict the generous breadth of State Street to merely bicycles and buses. As any Madison driver has found out the hard way, cars are not allowed on State Street or places like Library Mall — I presume with the intent of creating a less industrial, slower-paced atmosphere friendlier to pedestrians. How, then, do skateboards not fit the intended image?
Skateboards (or any other “toy” or “play vehicle” they are grouped in with) are not allowed on any road, empty lot, etc. unless crossing at a crosswalk (WI Statute 346.78). In some areas they are permitted on sidewalks, but not in the business district. While maneuvering a car around State Street is do-able, forcing a skateboarder to avoid both the street and sidewalk of State entirely is somewhat cruel.
Time and time again, Madison is marveled at for its impeccable bike lanes and progressive attitude toward bike transportation. Biking is encouraged in Madison far more than surrounding cities and even nationwide. Bikers are treated with respect, and their safety is a top concern, as shown by the Department of Transportation’s lengthy guide. In-line skates are legally accepted on roadways as well, as long as ridden in “a careful and prudent manner.”
The tolerance for skateboarding is much lower. In May 2010, police publicly started to crack down on boarding, including threats of $76.20 tickets for skating on sidewalks, etc.
A public skate facility is in the works — to fill the void left when Madison’s sole skate park closed in 2010 — but the 2013 capital budget falls about $450,000 short of what is needed to meet the city’s cost estimate. In addition to the cost, this facility would only meet recreational needs and ignores the undeniable existence of a population that wishes to use boards as a form of transportation. The “toy” designation, as skateboards and longboards are referred to in legislation, is improper.
The struggle between skateboarders has been documented in city news as early as 2002, when Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said, “State Street is undergoing a renovation in the next few years. I would like the city government to consider lifting the prohibition against State Street. … Not necessarily on the sidewalks, but at least on the street itself.”
Since then, not much has progressed in the direction the alder would have hoped. A forum discussion on Silverfishlongboarding.com advised a longboarder moving to the area that, although police enforcement was inconsistent, “If you wanna go longboarding with no chance of getting a ticket, go into Middleton or Waunakee.” If residents — and potential newcomers to the city — continue to be off-put by Madison’s disparate policies toward certain fuel-less vehicles, we could be hurting the community as a whole.
Skateboarders and longboarders are not being given the privilege of personal responsibility and have been ousted from public places for the past decade — places where similar vehicles are welcomed and esteemed. Skating, even with proper equipment and caution, is not being given a place in this city.